Speech by German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke on "Oceans and Climate Change" at the Our Ocean Conference

Lemke auf der Our Ocean Conference
Speech by Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke on "Oceans and Climate Change" at the Our Ocean Conference

– Check against delivery –

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the fight against the climate crisis and the destruction of nature, we have a powerful ally — the ocean. It produces oxygen, regulates the climate and stores carbon. Countless species call this habitat their home. Its coral reefs and mangrove forests offer vital protection against storm surges, which are becoming more frequent because of the climate crisis.

But this powerful ally is under threat. The climate crisis is making our ocean warmer and more acidic. It is polluted and overexploited.

We need a fundamental shift in our approach to the ocean. If we help our ocean recover to some extent now, it will help us tackle the climate crisis and stop the destruction of our foundations of life.

In Germany, we want to make greater use of these synergies. That is why, in the fight against the climate crisis, we are increasing our investments in Nature based Solutions. In the coming years, we will make 4 billion euros available for nature based climate solutions. The focus will be on funding specific measures for habitat conservation and restoration, and incentives for climate friendly, environmentally sound management forms. A central pillar of this programme will be dedicated to coastal and marine habitats in the North and Baltic Seas. We want to improve carbon storage capacities by planting seagrass beds, salt meadows and seaweed forests and better protect the seabed by establishing protection zones.

In international forums too, we have become better in recent years at jointly addressing climate change mitigation, environmental and marine protection. Protecting the high seas, restoring mangrove forests and adopting a UN BBNJ Treaty – all these issues are directly connected to climate change mitigation.

There are four points that are especially important to me:

First, marine protected areas: Nature needs protected areas to recover and build up resilience against the impacts of the climate crisis. That is why it is crucial that our negotiators adopt a UN BBNJ Treaty at the end of the week in New York. Only then will we stand a chance of reaching the 30x30 protected areas target set in Montreal.

Second, we need to end pollution on a large scale. Floating islands of waste, seabirds and marine life tangled in plastic nets, we have all seen these images. This is what global pollution of our ocean looks like. If the consumption of plastics continues to rise unchecked worldwide, so, too, will greenhouse gas emissions. Binding rules on reducing consumption thus must be a central component of the new agreement on plastics. This will ensure we are tackling the root of the problem. Voluntary national approaches, cooperation projects and pledges from industry can effectively complement these efforts. Germany has therefore launched a Grant Programme Against Marine Litter with a total funding volume of 168 million US dollars. We have also made progress on fishing regulation: further fishing restrictions are now in place for the marine protected areas in the German North Sea, which also includes an area that is home to endangered porpoises.

Third, we have to protect our ocean against new pressures. By this, I mean, for instance, deep-sea mining and the release of carbon stored in the seabed, but also harmful fishing methods which disturb the seabed. We still have no idea about the impacts of deep-sea mining on the marine environment and global climate. That is why, until further notice, Germany will not support any plans of work for deep-sea mining. This will apply until deep-sea ecosystems and the impacts of deep-sea mining have been sufficiently researched and strict environmental standards have been developed. We urge all states to join us in a precautionary pause for the time being.

Fourth and lastly, we need ambitious commitments on the protection of our ocean. The Our Ocean Conferences offer an excellent platform for this. This year, Germany submitted a total of 12 commitments with funding of over 300 million euros.

These enable us, for example, to support Colombia in identifying, designating and taking an integrated approach to managing marine protected areas. We are helping develop solutions to build up the resilience of corals against the impacts of climate change in ecosystems in the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific region.

At home in Germany, my goal is to bring the many facets of marine protection together under a broad Marine Protection Initiative. This is one of my ministry’s key projects. It will include a binding marine strategy aimed at harmonising nature- and environmentally friendly use with protection goals. I have also appointed a Federal Government Commissioner for the Ocean.

Our ocean needs allies in every corner of the world. You can help us avert the major environmental crises of our time: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Our planet can only be healthy when our ocean is healthy.

03.03.2023 | Speech Marine Conservation | Panama

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